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On May 31st, twelve people were killed and another four were injured in an active shooting situation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. One officer also was injured, his life spared because of the protection provided by his bulletproof vest. It was the worst shooting of this kind this year. I was first informed of the incident by my smartphone (affectionately referred to as my "smarty" phone). It provided a headline leading into the story along with a picture; and there he was heading straight into a building with his rank and identification across his back in big, bold colors: CHAPLAIN! As far as I can remember, that is the first time I have seen a picture with a chaplain depicted on such an important story, and I have to hasten to add that the picture was quickly removed and I have not seen it since.

Chaplains tend to work behind the headlines and are seldom mentioned, but they are there during any major tragedy. If something serious happens -- e.g. an active shooter event, an act of terrorism, accidents involving fatalities, and a host of other situations -- you may be sure there is a chaplain or team of chaplains present. The media does not like to focus upon chaplains, and the law enforcement community tends to limit their visibility. In fact, our country at the present is not even sure it wants to recognize the role of chaplains, this even in the military where chaplains serve under the law along with combat troops. The problem may not be with chaplains per se, but rather with a country that is working hard to become a "religion-less society."

Although the military recognizes the authority of chaplains and ascribes them rank and office, too many times local law enforcement communities consider them a strictly volunteer group that is sub-standard to academy-trained officers. If the criteria are based upon salary, then chaplains are strictly volunteers, since they do not normally receive remuneration. However, if the criteria involve taking an oath of office, training, or knowledge of law enforcement, then chaplains must be regarded as an integral part of the law enforcement team. They most certainly are among the best-trained people in law enforcement, since few officers can claim both a baccalaureate degree and three years of graduate work. You may become a commissioned law enforcement officer after 13 weeks of academy training.

And yet, when they are needed, law enforcement greatly appreciates their assistance. They know that a chaplain brings the presence of God to the situation and provides comfort and support too often not available among law enforcement personnel who are trained to enforce the law, not to provide emotional and spiritual support.

Many times, I have overheard police officers say, "It's okay; the chaplain is here now." This suggests that the chaplain is capable of providing something of a miracle to make everything okay again, something that is beyond a chaplain's ability. On the other hand, chaplains are trained to work with hurting people and are not afraid to offer both emotional and spiritual support, often in the presence of tears and genuine grief over the loss of a loved one.

The Department of Justice does recognize the value and importance of chaplains. Following 9/11, the guidelines for chaplains were changed, making chaplains who are either killed or injured during the line-of-duty eligible for the same benefits as law enforcement officers. This action validates the fact that sworn chaplains in the law enforcement community do have an official status within the law enforcement community. After all, most law enforcement agencies have any number of people present who are not academy trained -- e.g. office personnel, dispatchers, animal control officers and jail deputies. Not everyone has law enforcement authority, but everyone is sworn to uphold the law and to do his or her job to the best of their ability. There are no sub-standard people in law enforcement.

Despite the efforts of some to keep the role of law enforcement chaplains quiet and to limit the role of religion in our society, my heart goes out to the chaplain at Virginia Beach who was called to minister to those who lost loved ones during a terrible shooting. May we not hide his picture, but instead raise up a shout of appreciation for the men and women who serve as chaplains in law enforcement. They are there on the front lines, sometimes even risking their lives along with other law enforcement personnel, and deserve to be recognized. All of the chaplains at the Benton County Sheriff's Office are "First Responders."

• • •

Robert Box is the former chaplain for the Bella Vista Police Department and is currently the Fire Department chaplain. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Religion on 07/03/2019

Print Headline: Law enforcement chaplains are first responders too

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